Category: asian

Banchan, Chili, Pork Fat & Han: Dining At Asian Kitchen

Sometimes I feel like David Chang inside.

If you’ve read Anthony Bourdain’s The Nasty Bits or seen the Parts Unknown episode of Koreatown, you know what I’m talking about.

I’m an adopted Korean who knows very little about what it means to be Korean except that people commented on my face a lot growing-up in suburban Minnesota, I got a white belt in tae kwon do in Korean Culture Camp, and I like Korean food. Last month I saw the episode of Parts Unknown: 24 Intoxicated Hours where Bourdain meet Nari in South Korea. They talked about Han & Jeong and suddenly my whole life made sense:

Han, my favorite Korean word: It has many implied and specific meanings, but generally speaking, it’s a mixture of endurance, yearning, sorrow, regret, bitterness, spite, hatred, and a grim determination to bide your time until revenge can at last be enacted.” -Bourdain

Bourdain jokingly asked Nari if she’d wish vengeance on all of the people who used to make fun of the Korean lunches she brought to school. She replied that her greatest vengeance would be that they would have to think about that time they made fun of her and hopes they love Korean food now.

This weekend, it was my pick for date night and I chose Korean food. We waffled between a couple local restaurants and ultimately chose Asian Kitchen. I wasn’t craving Korean fusion or Korean with an upscale twist, but the kind of food we found at Dong Yang which tasted like someone’s mother or grandmother just prepared. Thanks to Whiskey Soba for restaurant suggestions! 

Asian Kitchen is located along a stretch of Olive Blvd, home to many Asian restaurants and shops. The restaurant is unassuming on the outside and warm and comfortable on the inside. To start, we shared a bottle of soju ($14). Its crisp and smooth like saki, except that it’s stronger.

Soju

I don’t drink. But sometimes I need a stiff drink.

Jake enjoys ordering foods he’s never tried before and ordered the Dukbokki made with Korean rice cake, fish cake slices and a sweet and spicy chili sauce. In hindsight, we had no idea we’d receive so much banchan and barely made a dent in this dish. The rice cake tubes are chewy and dense and very filling. We especially liked the tangy chili sauce.

rice cake

All of this made for excellent leftovers the next day, but, as word of warning, the rice cakes become rubber eraser-like when cold, so you might want to heat them up.

Our server began to set bowls of banchan on our table and we curiously watched as he started at the far corner of our table. Soon, our entire table was covered in banchan. I had seen Asian Kitchen advertise that they give guests about 15 types of banchan at each meal, but was shocked to see we each received our own set of 15.

korean food spread

We always seemed to receive about five-six small dishes of banchan at the restaurants we dined at in Minnesota, no matter if we were in a party of two or a party of five. I think we could have received banchan refills if we had asked, but no one ever offered them to us and we were too Minnesota-nice to ask.

The banchan spread at Asian Kitchen made feel giddy. In between bites of our entrees, we nibbled on marinated mushrooms, pickled radish, bok choy, neat cubes of pancake and omelet, seaweed salad, fish cake, marinated tofus, crunchy bean sprouts, and kimchi, of course. Nothing tasted stale and everything tasted fresh.

The pork dishes we ordered tasted kissed by char. Asian Kitchen is one of several Korean restaurants in town that offer tabletop grilling. This time around we let the kitchen cook our entrees, but hope to try the tabletop experience soon.

pork

Jake’s favorite dish is spicy pork bulgogi. It arrived extra spicy as requested. The plump slices of meat were marinated through and through and lacked any gristle or fat. On the other hand, my pork belly slices were ideally fatty. The fat ribbon had a firm, almost crisp bite.

“Would you life refills of anything?” asked the young man, pointing at our spread of banchan. We thought he was joking and I started to laugh until we realized that his offer was quite serious. We declined refills and asked for the bill which arrived with these tiny, chilled drinks that tasted like yogurt and orange creamsicles. Jake also grabbed a couple Korean, melon-flavored hard candies from the bar where he paid the bill.

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Each of our pork dishes cost about $16. Prices are reasonable considering portion sizes and the incredible spread of banchan. Our server’s friendliness and all of these special touches made us feel doted on.

Hot chili, garlic, more hot chili and charred pork fat; I want to be fueled by these things.

If you want to try to cook Korean at home, check out Maangchi’s blog.

Product Review: Kracie Popin’ Cookin’ Happy Sushi House DIY Japanese Candy Kit

I first learned about DIY Japanese candy kits reading Liz’s reviews of Japan Crate on her website My Subscription Addiction.

I don’t even subscribe to any subscription boxes, but love following her reviews and the latest subscription box drama. It’s like my soap opera. Anyway, after seeing some of the cool candy and cookie kits she was receiving in her Japan Crates, I decided to order some to try home.

Since we’re Amazon Prime members, I ordered two kits from their selection on April 6th. Unfortunately, I clicked the wrong shipping preferences, opting for free shipping instead of Amazon Prime shipping. One kit arrived two and a half weeks later while the second from seller JAPAN-SUBCULTURE arrived today, so I can only assume it arrived from Japan by pony express.

The good things about these candy kits is that they’re relatively inexpensive and are designed in fun themes such as sushi and pizza. I bought the Kracie’s Popin’ Cookin’ Happy Sushi House and Happy Kitchen Pizza kits for about $5 each. The Happy Kitchen Pizza kit creates a savory instead of sweet product. You can find more brands of kits on Blippo, but they charge $9 for the same Happy Sushi Kit.

United Noodles, my favorite Asian grocery store in Minneapolis told me that Kracie’s Happy Sushi House and Happy Kitchen Cake kits arrived this morning but are hard to keep on the shelves due to their loyal following. United Noodles added that they do carry sushi, ice cream and cake kits. Here’s a Youtube video example of someone preparing the Happy Kitchen Cake. I love how all of these kits are so happy 🙂

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I took one glance at the instructions and decided I needed some help. After a reader suggested I search for Youtube videos, I found a short & long tutorial that easily walked me through the process.

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Once you cut off the top and bottom ends of the kit’s plastic wrapper, it forms a sushi place mat on which you can place the candy.

package Collage

The kit contains everything you need, except for water.

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Since this kit is more complicated than the ones Liz has found in her Japan Crate boxes, I’m not sure I could have figured this out on my own. But, with the video tutorials, using the kit really was easy. My only goof was making four rice balls instead of six.

Each packet corresponds with one of the container’s sections. You simply fill the proper compartment with water up to the indicated line and mix in the corresponding packet with the little shovel. The red and yellow strips solidified and formed the fish and tamago (Japanese omelet).

steps collage

The most fun part was making the little fish eggs with the dropper. Once the thick orange solution hit the blue liquid, candy orbs formed. Prepare for some molecular gastronomy!

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The most difficult part was making the seaweed wrapper from a green cube of candy that had the texture of bubblegum. I broke the cube two and tried to press the halves into long, thin strips. The kit’s wrapper includes a life-size illustration of the correct size. One must work quickly because the substance becomes sticky and fragile as it warms in your hands.

sushi eggs Collage

To finish the sushi, I scooped the fish eggs from the solution and placed them on the rice balls wrapped with seaweed. They stuck to the candy surprisingly well. Then, I used the little scooper to gently lift the yellow and red strips of candy from the mold. I cut each in two, and placed half on the last two rice balls. If I had six rice balls total, I would have been able to use the rest of the tamago and fish strips.

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I was happy with how my final candy sushi. The bubbles, tamago, and fish tasted inoffensively tutti frutti. However, when I took a bite of a whole piece of candy, I wasn’t fond of the rice ball flavor or texture. The bubbles and colorful gels tasted more like fruit, but the rest of the candy reminded me of dry bubblegum. More fun to make than to eat, for me at least.

In summary, I had a lot of fun making this kit and can see how they have a cult following. It’s amazing how the kits provide everything you need to easily make the cutest, almost lifelike versions of candy sushi. Depending on where you order these kits from, they’re relatively inexpensive. I can see these being a fun activity to make with kids. As a kid, I would have gone crazy over these kits. I was always on the hunt for unique and unusual candies and loved when my dad brought back candy from his international work trips.

As minuses, the kits may be difficult to prepare if you can’t read Japanese and don’t watch an instructional video. Depending on your tastes, you may also enjoy making the candy more than eating the candy.

How To Save Money By Making Your Own Mock Duck. It’s Easy!

I’m not a vegetarian but I love mock duck.

Mock duck, also known as seitan, is a vegetarian product made from wheat gluten, meaning it’s not a good option for those with gluten allergies. I like mock duck’s chewy texture because resembles meat more so than other other meat-substitutes. Mock dock is often located in the refrigerated section of grocery stores and or sold by the can in Asian grocery stores. I remember enjoying my first tastes of mock duck in Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches at Jasmine Deli, a restaurant located along Eat Street in Minneapolis, MN. Three dollars never tasted so good.


This afternoon, I found mock duck in Sidney’s refrigerated case for about $3.69 per package. It’s cut into small pieces and ready to eat, but the package only contains a cup’s worth. Instead, I bought this bag of wheat gluten flour and decided to make my own. Although this bag cost a little over $7, it actually makes about three times more mock duck for the price of the packaged version when compared ounce for ounce. If you have some extra time, it’s really easy to make at home. I mostly followed the package’s instructions and adjusted a few elements.

Ingredients:
2 cups wheat gluten
2 cups boiling water
Garlic salt, about 1 teaspoon
A pinch of dried marjoram
A pinch of dried sage
9 cups of water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons molasses (could also use honey)
A few thick slices of of fresh ginger, washed and skinned

Instructions:
To prepare the cooking liquid, bring 9 cups of water, soy sauce, molasses and ginger to a simmer.

In a large bowl, stir together the wheat gluten and boiling water. It’s texture will be damp and spongy. Set the mixture aside until it’s cool enough to handle.

Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes to further develop the chewy texture.

Divide the dough in smaller pieces, and cut into slices. Drop into the simmering liquid. Stir and simmer for an hour.

You can just make out the steam rising from the pot.

The mock duck will absorb the liquid’s flavor and become chewier. The slices of mock duck will greatly expand in size.

Remove the mock duck and drain in a strainer. Place a heavy object on top of the mock duck to remove extra liquid or wait until it cools and press it with your hands. Now it’s ready to use. You can also use the mock duck to replace the meat in stir-fries, salads, or sloppy joes. Extra mock duck can be frozen for later use.

Baked Cream Cheese Wontons With Garlic Scapes

Earlier this week, I wrote about recreating the mandu eggrolls I remembered from childhood Korean Culture Camp lunches at Simple, Good, and Tasty.

I’m still in a dumpling state of mind.

In addition to frying mandu, I baked cream cheese wontons flavored with garlic scapes and green onions from our CSA box.  Unfortunately, garlic scapes only appeared in our CSA boxes two weeks, but from what I’m reading from other bloggers, they are still available at farmers markets.

If garlic scape season has passed in your neighborhood, substitute minced or grated garlic (or garlic powder).

Lisa Lillien may be at the end of many of my jokes, I’m occasionally inspired by some of her ideas.  In true Hungry Girl style, I baked the cream cheese wontons, although I used the full-fat cream cheese.  I find the lower-fat versions unappealingly grainy.  When baked, the wonton wrappers are acceptably crispy, albeit a tad floury on the outside.  Overall, an acceptable substitute for deep frying.

If you want an option that falls between deep-frying and baking, try pan fry-steaming.  Heat a little oil in a pan and fry one side of the wontons.  Flip the wontons and cook until the other side begins to turn golden brown.  Add a small splash of water, quickly cover, and briefly steam.  The wontons should be crispy on the outside.  Drain on paper towels.

Baked Cream Cheese Wontons Flavored With Garlic Scapes & Green Onion

Ingredients
Cream cheese, softened
Garlic scapes, thinly sliced  (or minced/grated garlic)
Green onion, thinly sliced
Sugar
Pinch of salt
Wonton wrappers
Egg, beaten into egg wash
Cooking spray or your choice or oil, misted

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to about 375 degrees F.
  2. Mix the cream cheese with garlic scapes, green onion, sugar, and a pinch of salt, all to taste.  I like my filling to lean towards sweet.
  3. For each wonton, place a small spoonful of cream cheese filling into the wrapper.  Smear two edges of the wrapper with egg wash and firmly press to seal.  For extra security, press the sealed edges with the tines of a fork.
  4. Before baking, cover the wontons with a damp cloth so they don’t dry out.
  5. Place onto an oiled sheet pan and mist the tops with oil.
  6. Bake until golden brown. Watch the corners so they don’t burn.
  7. Serve with sweet chili sauce or sweet and sour sauce.

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